Life-Changing Lessons from My First Basketball Camp

By: Mike Herbert, Director of Physical Education at the NAofA

My first basketball camp experience was in the mid-80s as a young boy who wanted to be a professional basketball player. My mother saved all year long to pay for me to go to a week-long basketball camp hosted by the Golden State Warriors. It was my first experience staying multiple nights away from home, out of my comfort zone with a few hundred other kids who just wanted to play basketball. I was nervous about being away from home, learning from new coaches, and of course, intimidated by the other athletes in attendance, but I never would have guessed how this camp would shape my life.

I attended several camps as a young athlete, but none of them will ever really compare to that first camp at Harker Academy in San Jose with the Warriors. I learned a lot that week. I learned how to dribble more effectively, how to shoot the ball correctly, and play defense in a great stance. Most of the instruction and gameplay took place outdoors under the scorching sun in mid-July, but it is what I learned in the evenings and early mornings that has shaped my life.

Now in my mid-40s, with children of my own, I can see that the lessons I learned after the basketball was done were the most memorable. I remember being woken up in the middle of the night by camp coaches, counselors, and even Head Coach George Karl spraying us with water guns and water bottles. I recall an early morning wake-up call, much too early to believe, but nonetheless, we got up thinking it was time to get going only to find more coaches with water guns. One morning we awoke to a shoe missing, just one, only to find the other shoe tied with a hundred other shoes hanging from rim to rim outside.

These pranks and antics at the time were somewhat annoying from a pre-teen point of view, but hilarious nonetheless. It was the type of prank that you would want to pull on your friend of 30 years. I don’t necessarily remember every drill or every skill I learned that week, but I remember laughing and smiling more than I had ever done before. That camp just reinforced my love for the game of basketball.

Fast forward 15 years from that moment and my first opportunity working at the Superstar basketball camp in San Diego, CA. During orientation, I met Aaron Locks and I realized immediately that I knew this person. His face and voice were as familiar as someone I have known all my life. After a few moments of thought, I realized that Aaron was my coach at the Warriors basketball camp years earlier. All those happy memories of the camp experience came rushing back as if it was yesterday.

Re-connecting with Aaron just further affirmed the importance of sport for me. I have now spent my entire adult life teaching and coaching with that same philosophy I learned as a child. Children want to learn and they want to have fun. Their interactions with others are so important and need to be memorable. If we can make our interactions with kids, and for anyone for that matter, memorable then we can make an impact in their lives.

The impact that the coaches, counselors, Aaron, and Coach Karl made on me over 30 years ago still impact my life daily. That experience is what makes sports so important for our youth. I will cherish those memories forever and I hope I can help create those types of memories for my children as well as other parents and children.